Gary Johnson Thinks Barack Obama and Bashar Assad Are Morally About the Same

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Gary Johnson thinks our foreign policy should be less interventionist. That’s fair enough. I agree with him. But this is ridiculous:

Attacking Hillary Clinton over what he criticized as her overly interventionist instincts, Mr. Johnson pointed to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians killed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, as well as civilian deaths caused by the American-backed coalition, and said Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state, bore at least partial responsibility…He charged that Mrs. Clinton “bears responsibility for what’s happened, shared responsibility for what’s happened in Syria. I would not have put us in that situation from the get-go.”

This is nuts. Hillary Clinton played no role in starting the civil war in Syria, and 400,000 people have died there even though Barack Obama chose not to adopt her policy preferences. Our responsibility for what’s happened in Syria—whether you think it’s large or small—belongs to Obama, not Clinton. Then there’s this:

[Johnson] drew a parallel on Wednesday between the Syrian government’s targeting of noncombatants in that nation’s civil war and the accidental bombing of civilians by United States-backed forces…When pressed four times on whether he saw a moral equivalence between deaths caused by the United States, directly or indirectly, and mass killings of civilians by Mr. Assad and his allies, Mr. Johnson made clear that he did.

Words fail. Yes, the United States is far from perfect. Yes, we sometimes kill innocent civilians. Yes, we often do too little to make sure civilians are safe. All of this is worth protest until we get better.

But we do try to spare civilians. In fact, our rules of engagement are famously restrictive. Bashar Assad, by contrast, deliberately targets civilians in huge numbers. Civilian or not, if you oppose Assad he wants you dead.

Does Johnson really see no difference there? That wouldn’t pass muster in a freshman ethics class, let alone the real world. I’d like to see the United States rely less on a military approach to the Middle East, too, but I sure wouldn’t want our military in the hands of a guy who apparently sees no real moral difference between a butcher like Bashar Assad and decent but imperfect leaders like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend